Before there was the monument, there was the bug. Or I should say bugs, as in loads of ’em. Boll weevils are little beetles that simply love cotton bolls, which are the insect answer to steak and lobster in a nicely rendered sauce -- irresistible. They crossed over from Mexico and entered Texas in the early 1900s, munching their way through crops on a path toward Coffee County, home of Enterprise, Alabama.
Droves of the weevils arrived in Coffee County in 1915. They destroyed cotton crops, putting the hurt on farmers and dragging the whole area into a financial slump. An Enterprise businessman named H.M. Sessions decided that if you can’t beat ’em, thwart ’em. Sessions thought peanuts were the best defense, as weevils feel about nuts the way I do about broccoli – no way, no day, no how.
C.W. Baston was a cotton farmer who was deeply in debt and fighting a losing battle with the little bugs. In 1916, Sessions offered to supply him with peanuts for planting, a picker to harvest them and $1 a bushel for the harvest. Game on.
Baston's crop thrived. He paid off debts with money left to sock away. The 8,000 bushels of peanuts he produced were used as seed by other farmers who by then were clamoring to get a piece of the peanut pie.
This is significant because before then, growers put all their crops in one basket – that belonging to King Cotton. Cotton was the only real cash crop for many farmers, and they had nothing else to fall back on if it failed. Baston's success with peanuts changed that mindset. Cotton was still important, but it was no longer the only game in town.
And there you have the reason to thank the troublesome boll weevils. They brought hard times, but in doing so forced farmers to make changes that brought a new era of prosperity to Coffee County.